White House Cements Exemption From FOIA

17 March 2015

The White House Office of Administration on March 17 officially exempted itself from the Freedom of Information Act, relying on a seven-year-old court decision.

The Office of Administration amended its regulations, relying on a judicial decision from 2009 in which U.S. District Judge Coleen Kollar-Kotelly dismissed a government watchdog’s lawsuit seeking records on missing White House e-mails.

She ruled that the Office of Administration was not subject to FOIA regulations because it doesn’t employ “the type of substantial independent authority that the D.C. Circuit has found sufficient to make an (executive office of the president) component an agency under the FOIA.” The office provides administrative support and business services to the president’s executive office.

The appeals court said the White House must archive e-mails, but does not have to release them under the FOIA. Instead, White House e-mails must be released under the Presidential Records Act — but not until at least five years after the end of the administration.

The notice of the rule change, made a Federal Register filing, came during US Sunshine Week. “Their timing is exquisite,” said Tom Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive, the publisher of FreedomInfo.org.

“This is an office that operated under the FOIA for 30 years, and when it became politically inconvenient, they decided they weren’t subject to the Freedom of Information Act any more,” Tom Fitton of the conservative Judicial Watch, was quoted as saying in a USA Today article.

See background in VICE article.

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